Secret commission premieres Feb. 13 at UA


Larry Snider

A five-year secret will be revealed Feb. 13 when The University of Akron Symphonic Band premieres "Nights in Tobago" — a new piece by famed composer David Gillingham that features a unique steel drum solo.

Free and open to the public, the concert begins at 7 p.m. in the ballroom of the Student Union, 303 E. Carroll St. Conducted by UA Professor Robert Jorgensen, the band will also perform the work in Columbus at 9:15 a.m. on Feb. 17 in the Convention Center Ballroom during the Ohio Music Education Association's annual state conference.

Mark and Sandy Auburn are sure to be in the audience for both concerts. The Fairlawn couple commissioned the work in 2006 in honor of Larry Snider, professor of percussion at UA and founder of the UA Steel Drum Band.

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The Auburns kept the commission a secret from Snider for five years, revealing it only last year as Gillingham was completing the score.

Longtime professor honored by 'gift'

"Coming from dear friends and celebrating music that I love, this is an honor of a lifetime," says Snider, whose name is listed prominently on the first page of the score along with the names of the Auburns and the UA School of Music.

"We respect Larry as a music educator," explains Mark Auburn. "He stands out not just for how he develops musicians but also how he uses music to build character and equip his students for life."

Mark and Sandy Auburn

The Auburns wanted the commission to feature a steel drum because of Snider's 30-year friendship with their mutual friend, the late Caroline Pardee, who was an avid fan of the UA Steel Drum Band.

Also planning to attend the Columbus performance is Gillingham, whose works for band and percussion are standards in the repertoire. "Nights in Tobago" is the first piece that Gillingham has written for the steel drum. In fact, it may be the only piece ever composed for symphonic band that uses the instrument that got its start in the two-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

New piece proves challenging

With Gillingham as the composer and its unique use of a steel drum, the Auburns hope that "Nights in Tobago" becomes widely popular and is performed by symphonic bands around the country. "It's a difficult piece to perform," observed Mark Auburn after he and Sandy sat in on rehearsal. "But, it is a great teaching tool because it challenges musicians and will connect with audiences in a new way."

Over the years the Auburns, UA graduates and lifelong arts patrons, have established several scholarships at their alma mater as well as a competitive prize in cultural criticism.

Their decision to commission a new work for symphonic band was inspired, in part, because they wanted to help create music that they enjoyed and could last forever, says Sandy Auburn.

Beginning with the concert on Feb. 13 they will get their wish: Everyone who performs "Nights in Tobago" that evening and in the future will be in on the secret.

Media contact: Cyndee Snider, 330-972-5196 or